Jams, Jellies and Pickles – oh my!

My canning so far this year includes Strawberry Jam, Blueberry Jam and Pickle Spears
My canning so far this year includes Strawberry Jam, Blueberry Jam and Pickle Spears

I learned to can when I was 9 years old from a neighbour who took me under her very old-fashioned wing.  Sue (Mrs. MacCallum, as I called her then) was a surrogate grandmother who introduced me to the wonders of knitting, quilting and canning.  Looking back, I believe she played a more starring role in my current career teaching kids to craft and cook than I may have first realized.  A tip of the hat to you, Mrs. MacCallum!

Sue was amazing.  I remember hearing about this mysteriously patient man named “Job” all the time and wondering if he was related to Sue in some way.  She had depthless patience, never using an unkind word or criticizing when I would make a mistake.  She would laugh and make some crazy reference to my experimental nature and the importance of making mistakes so we can learn and do it better next time.  I’ve always remembered that and have tried to carry it with me throughout my personal and professional life.

Of course, it was her easy manner – so opposite my perfectionist mom – that would make me long to learn at her side.  My favourite was, and still is, making Jam, though I rarely eat it.  I love the process so much I spent two years making and selling jam at farmer’s markets along with my hand made art and craft items.  People tell me it’s actually hard to make good jam….I’ve always found it hard to screw it up!!

Ironically, I love to eat pickles and though the process is not tedious, I just don’t enjoy it like making jam.  And mistakes?  Oh yeah, I’ve made a few!

Did you know that pickles count as zero points on Weight Watchers?!

pickle 3

Well, remember the 8 to 10 extra cucumbers I received from my awesome and generous neighbour?  Today is the day I pickled them so we wouldn’t be wasting them.  In total, this event took me less than an hour start to finish.  Not bad, right?  I was pleased that this yielded four 1L jars of finished pickles:  Awesome!

During the process of preserving, it’s crucial that you clean and sterilize your jars – CRUCIAL!  If you’ve never done this before, pay extra special attention to this part even if it means taking a little bit more time.  Sterilizing your jars and lids kills bacteria that can fester in your preserves.  Those bacteria will, at best, spoil your food, and at worst, make you desperately ill.  Use hot soapy water to thoroughly wash all the tools and jars, rinse in clear, hot water and either sterilize in boiling water or on a high-temp quick rinse cycle of your dishwasher.  I always put the discs from the lids into a small pot of boiling water on my stove until I am ready to place it on the jar!

For these super simple pickles, we add everything directly to the jar instead of mixing the brine in advance to pour in the jar.  This is an experiment as one usually prepares the brine and pours it in as a solution.  Bear with my measurements and remember to adjust  or experiment with ratio’s to suit your own taste.  I adore salt, so I use more than I have written here:

  • 8 large field cucumbers
  • 1L White Vinegar
  • 1-2 TBSP Salt (course is best, but table salt works fine!)
  • 1/2 to 1 TBSP White Sugar
  • Dill – fresh or frozen, but not dried!
  • minimum 8 cloves of Garlic
  • Boiling water

Okay, now the process:

  1. Set up your clean & sterilized jars on a preparation counter within easy reach.
  2. Peel garlic cloves and place at least two in each jar.  I score them to allow the flavour to infuse throughout my brine.
  3. Add fresh or frozen dill to the jars.  Because I use frozen dill cubes, I added two cubes to each jar.
  4. Quarter & seed the cucumbers then cut into spears suited to your jar or personal desired outcome.  I cut each half into three lengthwise strips and then cut each of those into thirds again.
  5. Once the jars were full with my solids, I added my salt and sugar by pouring it into the jar.  Now, I don’t specifically measure, but it is reasonable to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt per jar and then half of that measure worth of white sugar.
  6. Next, pour in the white vinegar.  This I definitely don’t “measure” per se.  I add vinegar to the jar until it reaches the halfway point!
  7. Lastly, I fill the rest with boiling water from my kettle and place the lid disc on top.
  8. Seal the jars with the lid rings and slowly turn the jar over and around to get the additives to mix in with the vinegar solution.
Add vinegar to halfway then fill the rest with boiling water.
Add vinegar to halfway then fill the rest with boiling water.

The final stages of any uncooked pickle or canning project is to vacuum seal the jars in a boiling hot bath.  To do this get out your largest cooking pot (or stock pot) and fill it to halfway with water.  When you add the jars, the water rises through displacement so be careful not over-fill initally.  Place it on the stove to boil.  Once the water is simmering/boiling in the pot, add the jars of pickles.  Be careful not to overfill with jars or they will crack; just don’t let them actually touch. (also, if you have a way of raising them from the bottom of the pot, do)  Ideally, the water will actually cover the top of the jar.

Allow these to boil on the stove until you hear the lids “pop” or 15 minutes, whichever takes longer.  Remove them from the hot bath and set aside to cool:  You’re done!

Of course it wouldn’t be My Crazy Creative Kitchen without a little experimenting.  If you’re feeling cheeky, you can try adding a any combination of extras to add a flair to your flavour.

Play with your food and experiment with flavour.  We've added pearl onions to two jars.
Play with your food and experiment with flavour. We’ve added pearl onions to two jars.

Some experimental additives you might consider:

  • cayenne pepper
  • pearl onions
  • sliced hot peppers
  • cauliflower florets
  • cilantro
  • green tomatoes
  • a few ideas of your own!

I wish I could tell you how awesome they tasted, but I have to wait at least 4 weeks (ideally 6 to 8 weeks) to let them pickle before we can appreciate the real flavour.  Normally, I do prepare the brine in advance (combining the vinegar, water, salt and sugar and boiling) and pour it in.  Today, I was working with kids and just didn’t feel like cleaning that up:  Cheers!

Create your own best practices:  There are so many different recipes and processes for making pickles.  If you’re roaming the net looking for recipes and instructions, you will see what I mean!  This is where your willingness to experiment will really be tested and you will likely have to come up with your own set of best practices or “how-to-consistently-achieve-the-best-results”.  Some will tell you that chilling the cukes is essential to a good pickle, some will say no and so on.  The only way to be sure it’s right for you is to try it.  For example…I keep my cukes in the fridge till the last minute, but I don’t soak the cut cukes in ice cubes as some suggest.  Usually I would prepare the brine before pouring in, this time I didn’t, so we’ll see – I know they’ll be edible, but will they good?!

And on that note, I’d love to hear what experimenting you’ve tried with canning and preserving – success or failure.  I’ll be working on some relish and chutney ideas over the next few weeks, not to mention making pear and plum jam and apple jelly.

Your ideas are always welcome!  Keep experimenting:  Danielle

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